Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Boy Friendships versus Girl Friendships

One of the more fascinating and moving things for me as a parent is to watch my child befriend another. "The better part of one's life consists of his friendships," stated Abraham Lincoln. And is it ever one of the better parts.

Observing the way females friend and the manner in which males conduct a friendship was something I didn't truly begin to do until I became a mother. I believe I really started to sit up and take notice when Kenny was about 13 and I overheard him lacing a conversation with his then best friend with some choice expletives.

"You are a (expletive deleted)!" he said into the telephone. "I really hate you." I was shocked and stormed into the living room where he was on the phone, scolding him not to speak that way to Joe, or to anyone else for that matter. He just laughed at me and insisted that Joe didn't mind; he knew Kenny was joking. I refused to believe him until I called Joe's mom later to apologize, and she relayed that Joe referred to Kenny in the same sweet terms. "That's just boys," she counseled.
Yikes! And yes, boys can often get away with that.

I was in recent email contact with a woman who has been one of my dearest friends since the sixth grade. Apparently I didn't respond in a timely manner to one of her messages, so she emailed back: "Are you mad at me?" Now that's a trademark of girl friendships pretty much no matter what your age or how long the friendship. We're more sensitive. We're prone to imagining that our girlfriend is "mad" at us if they even look at us cross-eyed. And we try not to use wounding words, at least when we're older and wiser. I still don't think even a 14-year-old girl could get away with calling her girlfriend some of the demeaning things boys seemingly casually lob onto one another.

A quick Googling of "children's friendships" revealed that despite the common belief that girls are better at relationships, "most boys consider their friends a vital part of their lives." Apparently a recent study of 10- to 15- year old boys and girls found that girls' friendships are actually more fragile, and, my experience to the contrary, girls allegedly say and do hurtful things to each other more frequently than boys. Girls are additionally hurt to a greater extent at the end of a friendship.

As a child morphs into a teen (or "teen wolf" as a friend of mine hilariously dubbed her daughter), friendships become even more important, with the confusion and turbulence of this period leading both sexes to form even closer bonds, not only with same sex individuals but also with members of the opposite sex. I watched this in action with my older three and now that Jack is a seventh grader, he and his male buddies have
suddenly overnight formed a small posse of boys and girls. Whereas last year he would troll Elm Street with just the guys, now when I pick him up on a Friday he is lounging with a mixed group at the Outback or by Dunkin' Donuts, et al. Of course, with him being my baby, it is with a sense bitter sweet when I spy on his new set of friends; he's growing up and I'm not entirely ready. But I digress...

I look back fondly at the relationships that I formed growing up in small town Weston, where the majority of us who graduated high school with one another had been together since kindergarten and first grade; several since the sandbox in nursery school. The male friendships forged in teenage-hood were often stronger than those with my girlfriends, or at least they were a distinctive type of stalwart. I observe my daughter Jess' platonic bonds with boys and share what my experiences were. I will often pass on the knowledge that her female friendships not only with her New Canaan buddies, but also with those up at her boarding school, will more than likely still be alive and well and precious when she is old and silly like me.

My kids have chosen friends with opposite personalities than their own, they've chosen clones. And most importantly, they have by and large chosen well.

I have recently been "found" on Facebook by a dozen or so men and women (whom I still think of as boys and girls) from my youth. It has hurtled me back in time, reviving memories of how vital their friendships were as I grew; how we all helped one another grow. It makes me picture Blake, Kenny, Jess and Jack as 50-year-olds, waxing nostalgic with Sean, Jenna, Joe, Bria, Caroline, Drew or Cole or Kit. Friends then, and friends in their present time.

You can be seven with a new buddy, or 70 with a crony of decades, and -- to paraphrase Bette Midler -- "friends are the wings beneath our wings." Friends are one of the sweetest things to be thankful for. On Thanksgiving, remember and be grateful for those friends; remind your children to be indebted. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Persuading Our Kids That We're In Charge

How many times have you repeated the following sentence to your child or children,"Because I'm the mommy, that's why!" And on how many occasions have they muttered under their darling little breaths, "You're not the boss of me."

I have one of those platitudes-of-the-day calendars. Last Tuesday it read: "One of the hardest things about rearing children is convincing them that you have seniority." Oh my goodness; a truism if there ever was one. My kids go back and forth on recognizing that their father and I are, in fact, in charge. We are in charge of setting rules and following through on consequences when - notice I didn't day "if" - the edict is broken or bent. We have the power to overrule a decision of theirs that we feel is perhaps iffy, dangerous or not well thought out. This is in theory anyway.

Children seemed to be hard wired to challenge our authority even from a young age. During the "terrible twos" - an aptly named period if there ever was one - they begin chanting "no!" at every turn. They constantly screw their otherwise adorable faces up into a fierce visage and decry "why?!" And our response is the patented one from above:"Because I'm the mommy, that's why." Both my daughter Jess, now 15, and one of my older sons, Kenny, 23, disputed me on that one from toddlerhood through their teens (Jess I'm afraid has a few more years of the annoying line of questioning "why?"). Each whined and still whine that "because" isn't answer enough, I need to be more specific, which more times than not leaves me a bit stumped, if not also stupefied.

My litany of reasons include,"Because you're not old enough, responsible enough, because you can get hurt, because it costs too much, because I'm older than you, dammit!" Yeah, the last one is pretty lame. I don't endorse the occasional swear word, but it works sometimes. I'm older, I have been where you are now, I made mistakes and I am wiser for it. So just shut up and do as I say. Again, I don't really say "shut up" out loud, of course, except when one of my kids has really pushed my buttons too hard or campaigned for their way to excruciating proportions. This honest declaration in print is a little awkward, but something tells me that I am not alone with these particular verbal parenting indiscretions.

I don't think the phrase "You're not the boss of me" was really employed much when Kenny and Blake were younger, but Jack and Jess certainly never tired of during their stints in elementary school and perhaps through the fifth grade. In their heart of hearts they do know that I am the one with seniority, yet when has a teenager not challenged their parent's authority? It is part of their job description. But - and this is an important "but" - they can and eventually do realize that rebellion often comes with a price; left to their own devices, their own rules, situations don't routinely turn out quite the way they envisioned. Heeding mom or dad's advice might have been the better part of valor.

I can feel quite elderly and stereotypically parental when I utter the words,"When I was your age, these are the mistakes I made..." yet every so often my kid will actually pay attention. It appears that they will take in the obvious fact that yes, mom is indeed older and wiser than me, and battle-scarred. And if she didn't love me she wouldn't forbid certain behaviors or decisions I would like to act on. Sometimes even the simple one word comeback of "because" is enough.

So hang in there everyone. Do not abdicate to your offspring; do not negotiate - whenever possible - with your tiny or teenage terrorist. You are in charge, even if the whirling dervishes temporarily make you feel out-of-control.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Scary Economy and the Trick for Our Kids

This past month or two has hardly been a treat for our town and our country, to say the least. Reeling, frightened and cautious, most of us have had to cut back or cut out certain expenditures. As the grown-ups - many of who have lived through a recession or two in our lifetimes - we understand what is required to trim spending no matter how unhappy or uneasy (or both) it makes us. Our kids on the other hand, denied of "wants" for perhaps the first time in their lives, are shaking their heads: "Huh? What are you talking about?!"

Depending upon your level of wealth(and the majority of families here in New Canaan are in the upper end of the spectrum), your children have rarely had to do without the latest video game, piece of sporting equipment, footwear or fashion item, advanced piece of technology, etc. Sally needs a cell phone with numerous bells and whistles? No problem. Johnny has to have the newest version of X-Box? Why of course! Does Sara ask for $50 to purchase some must-have item along Elm Street? Consider it done. It's almost automatic. Maybe a lot of us did without during our childhood and so we want our children to have all or most of which we were unable. Probably a hefty percentage of kids age one to 21-ish feel entitled to whatever costly whim blows through their vision. And now, the gravy train has more than likely come abruptly to a screeching halt. The trick for us as parents is teaching them that less is not necessarily the end of and to their world, and that gravity can work in the reverse: What goes down can - and does eventually - go up again. They will live anew to wear $150-plus Nikes or the hottest Juicy Couture. Sometime. Just not necessarily now.

Our high school sophomore, Jess, had to settle for Target and H&M fashions to wear up at boarding school this year. We didn't even set foot inside Hollister or Abercrombie or even some of the more upscale (and coveted by her) stores in New Canaan. Her school often offers weekend trips to a local "movie-mall" and she has grown accustomed to phoning us up and asking that an extra $20 be immediately transferred into her debit account. After initial grumbling, Jon will pad over to the computer, granting her wish. She attempted this particular brand of phone call last weekend and was met with an unfamiliar "no." Jon calmly, but firmly, suggested that she needed to learn to budget the weekly $20 we already put into her account better: For instance, cut back on random junk food and yet another Jonas Brothers t-shirt for sale at the mall. Surely the 12-zillion you already posses are enough. I explained that the denied additional $20 didn't mean we were suddenly in danger of being in the poor house, but that expenses big and small needed to be pruned.

"We're not the only ones in town, honey," I reassured her. "Families all over the country need to tighten their belts a bit." And to her credit, she was sympathetic and decidedly un-whiny.

I think the key to calming our own fears, and the frustrations or anxieties of our children, is not to make drastic spending reductions (unless that is financially impossible). If our kids see us panic, well, they will certainly mimic that worry. But if we calmly curtail certain expenses while still allowing some treats it's perhaps more of a win-win situation between parent and child.

While the disposable income of many Americans is not as readily disposable, our children can still be made to feel that the shaky economy is not as mean a trick as it appears. They can learn to do their part in pruning expenses in small ways such as agreeing to rent - rather than buy - that hot, new video game, or helping with the electric bill by turning off lights, computers, televisions and game systems when not in use. My own two younger children - whose cell phones are not in perfect working order - are resigned to do their part and wait until Christmas for their upgrades and/or replacements. I was both shocked and impressed by them agreeing to delay their need for instant gratification; talk about a treat!

Wall Street has most likely (hopefully) blurted out its final "Boo!" So tomorrow night, when your child comes home laden with sweets, let them enjoy their abundance of riches. But not too much; safely saving a piece or two or three for a rainy day is always a good drill to teach. Because you never know...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Parenting Twenty-Somethings

"Having babies is fun, but babies grow up into people. "
~M*A*S*H, Colonel Potter

My oldest child is 25, a United States Marine, and for the moment is stationed at a base on the island of Okinawa. My second oldest son is 23, a "professional hobo," and as such doesn't live anywhere in particular; he just lights here and there throughout the United States. I never know where his thumb is taking him. But even if these two children of mine have long since fled the New Canaan nest, I still think, worry and wonder about each of them daily. Though one might think having a child in their 20's means the job as a parent is pretty much over, that's hardly the case. The parenting part is actually a bit trickier than it was long ago, in a childhood far, far away.
"Mothers do not know what to do when their children come of age... it's hard to find that they've moved on to build a life of their own. It's easy to feel rejected and lonely and to express those feelings by interfering in the life they (the child) are trying to build for themselves," states a website on family education. Although I may not be happy, for example, with Kenny's current lifestyle of living out of his backpack, I have to acknowledge that my hopes and dreams may not be his. As parents, our hopes and expectations are just that - ours. Acknowledging this is one thing, but acceptance of it with all of my being is something I find I must work on daily. I read Kenny's travel blog and I want to reach through the computer and shake him. Or we will have a conversation about where and what his next move may be and when I hang up my tongue is bloodied from biting it. Since his college graduation I have had to swallow the bitter pill that his agenda and mine are clearly not one and the same. I miss my power, as it were; my influence. Although perhaps I am not giving myself enough credit. There have been moments in both of my twenty-something sons' lives where they have turned to me for direction or input. I am the one they call first when successes - small or large - occur. It actually happens more with Kenny than with Blake, which -- given their different life experiences so far -- makes sense. Blake has certainly seen more in his 25 years than many adults see in their lifetimes. Three combat tours in Iraq will do that for a person. He has been on his own since high school graduation, existing under the wing of the military. Blake is always quick with the phrase: "I can handle it myself, mom." I suppose on many fronts that is true, and yet every so often I get that glimmer of my pre-Marine baby boy. The boy who needed my approval, helping hand or guidance, and shyly still does. It is so very odd to me to realize that Blake is only two years younger than I was when I gave birth to him. I remember how adult that life-changing event made me feel, yet also how frightened, young and uncertain. And so my mother came to stay with me for a few weeks before and after his birth, offering both that typical roll-your-eyes-behind-her-back type of advice, and also crucial and calming suggestions; the kind of motherly attention and affection every kid needs no matter what their age. There we were, the mother mothering the mother mothering the newborn child. I learned that there were- are - still plenty of opportunities to do some good mothering even when your child is north of age 20. Your adult child is going to make mistakes and will have to learn to live with and from them, often without turning to you for bail out. And although it doesn't pain us any less to see our child hurt at 22 then at two, there will be times when unsolicited pontificating is not the best course of action. Your goal as a parent at this stage in the game is to help your child feel empowered to take charge. That can be best accomplished if you make it clear that he or she always has a home and family to turn to when life gets tough. The "traumatic teens" have long passed for my older boys and have morphed into the "trials of the 20's." Their stuff is still in their room, clothes, gear and gadgets from their younger days untouched, hanging out in a closet or nestled in their dresser drawer. Both will be home for Christmas this year, a rare occurrence given Blake's career. They will pretend to chafe at my affection, but the slight pink blush that comes across their cheeks will remind me that I am still employed as their mother, even though I am not involved in their day-to-day actions as young adults.
Instant availability without continuous presence is probably the best role a parent can play.

Monday, September 08, 2008


"Parenting from the Trenches: Anecdotes from the Front Lines of Child Rearing"
by Julie Butler Evans
$18.95 includes shipping and handling


Thursday, July 17, 2008

When a Child Grows Into (or Out of) Their Name

Pop and television star Miley Cyrus - who was born Destiny Hope Cyrus – legally changed her name several months back to: Miley Ray Cyrus. Her nickname as a child was “Smiley,” which was then shortened to “Miley.” At the ripe old age of 15, she decided to chuck the “Destiny Hope.” This move in part prompted my own 15-year-old daughter to change her name this summer. But not legally. No way.

When perusing a baby name book nearly 16 years ago, my husband and I came upon the name “Jessie.” Not “Jessica” but “Jessie;” it was its own listing. The definition of which included the fact that in Scotland, Jessie is the nickname for “Janet.” My husband’s grandmother was named Janet and she was, in fact, a Scot. So although we preferred Jessie we thought it was the hand of fate and family to officially name her Janet. But call her Jessie or Jess. Stay with me here… Until she started kindergarten at age five, she was known far and wide as Jess. But there were a lot of Jessica’s running around the playground by then, so to avoid confusion, we began to call her by her given name, as did the school, friends and family members. Except for me and her oldest brother Blake. We couldn’t shake the moniker Jess. So for 10 years, my daughter has seemingly been the only “Janet” under the age of 40, which has been kind of unique.

In early July, my kid asked me if she could legally change her name to “Jess Evans.” When I queried “why” she said that “Janet Evans” has been done already (referring to former Olympic swimming gold medalist Janet Evans), and that Jess Evans sounded like a good stage name. Let me be clear here – my daughter is not on the verge of becoming a famous actress, at least not yet. So while putting the kibosh on the legal action, I happily informed her boarding school, summer camp and family far and wide of her decision. Of course old habits die hard – as they did for Blake and me – and Jon and Jack are currently struggling with the name transition. (Poor Jack, 12, has known her as “Janet” his entire life!)

As they grow, children often prefer to be known as the shorter or longer version of their given names. “Mike’s” morph into “Michael’s” and vice versa. “Katherine’s” may go for the jauntier “Kat” as a teen, and then turn back to Katherine once they begin a career. I had a friend growing up whose name was/is: Mary Frances Gannon. We all called her Mary until high school when she impulsively decided she wanted everybody to call her “Fran.” A boyfriend after college had always been known by his middle name, “Tyler,” but when he became a police officer he felt his first name “Donald” sounded tougher.

Once people get to know me, “Julie” is shortened to “Jul” or “Jules.” During my sophomore year in high school I tried writing “Jules Butler” on the top page of assignments, but it didn’t take. Like my daughter, I asked my parents about legally changing my name and received the same answer she did (don’t you cringe when you hear your parents’ voices echoing in your own?). There were some teachers who – like my pals – called me Jules anyway, but I could never get it in print. Ah well.

I drove Jess up to her boarding school a couple of weeks ago and she was thrilled upon arrival to pick up her student identification card with the name “Jess Evans” boldly imprinted on it. She began this school half way through her freshman year last January, so she is still fairly new. And the name change has given her the feeling and attitude of a fresh start. She was beaming as I drove away as her roommate cried out “Jess! I’ve missed you!”

I don’t know if one day down the line she’ll revert back to being called Janet; that’s her call. But she knows she’s really always been – and will forever be - my Jess.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Summer of Growth

Summertime isn’t just about backyard barbeques, beaches, fireflies, sunburns and heat waves that dull the senses and wilt the hair. Summer is also a time of change, especially for and in our children. And, yes: even in ourselves.

Summer is relaxation and introspection; expectation of what is to come in two to three months time. The next season is both a lifetime and a blink away. You want to stay in the day, in the moment, and yet it is nevertheless tempting to sneak a peek at the future; to project both best and worst case scenarios.

Five year olds nervously and excitedly discuss starting kindergarten (“the big school”) perhaps ad nauseum. They will brag about it when your friends ask them if they will, in fact, be a kindergartner in September. They may gloat about it to younger siblings. Your round cheeked daughter or son’s face will morph over July and August into a slightly more mature-looking visage by fall. You, too, will both rejoice over this upcoming milestone, and internally worry about your child’s readiness. And your own: Can I let go? Will I cry? What if, what if, what if?

Fourth and eighth graders – now fifth and ninth-graders-to-be – maybe plan a strategy to reinvent themselves at Saxe or NCHS. Voices will deepen, shoes sizes will enlarge. Your child may begin to attempt to break away even more from your apron strings. Fourteen-year-olds can adopt a new, cockier swagger as they stroll through town or around your summer vacation location. You will find their confidence both breathtaking and staggering.

For those parents whose kids will begin college, the melancholy is often suffocating. You are proud, you are anxious. Your son can’t wait, your daughter already wants to go shopping for her dorm room. They will live their summer to the fullest, all the while trying to push aside feelings of what if, what if, what if. You know that you will miss them, yet you may be ready to reclaim a tiny bit of freedom from doing and driving and coordinating.Your tears are firmly planted behind your eyes and your throat aches from the choking required to keep them at bay.

If your child is attending sleep-away camp for the first time, there is anxiety and fear of the unknown. How empty will the house feel without your son? Will your daughter gain a greater appreciation of all that you do, now that she will be away for a couple of weeks? You drive them to the airport, bravely wave so long, and watch the skies as your heart is strapped into a seat, a bag of stale peanuts on its lap, soaring off across the country for a month. That child will become more confident, be challenged and rise to that occasion. And you will discover that, yes, you can let go; you can survive a separation of time and space.

I’ve put four children on the bus bound for kindergarten, middle and high school. At four a.m. on the morning of July 26, 2001, I stood frozen in our front doorway while Blake hugged me goodbye as he left for Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina; my first child to leave home. I made it through his birthday in August without being with him, the initial birthday of many to come.I found that I was strong enough to live through three days, then three months, without seeing his face or hearing his voice. The experience was brutal and formidable for us both. Yet, it served to show me that I was, in fact, capable. That the inevitable letting go’s with the other three were – and are – doable.

There have been summers where I have conquered fears, not only emotional, but physical and spiritual. Like the summer two years ago, when I paraglided from atop the ski mountain at Jackson Hole (“jumping off the mountain” as I like to refer to it). My daughter was still in camp out there and my husband and son had returned to New Canaan. I was on my own for a week and determined to try some new things; tick off some bucket list items. Afraid of flying and of heights, I nevertheless threw caution to the winds – literally – and flew. When I revealed my feat to my husband and four children, they were duly surprised and impressed. I flew, I grew.

There is something in the air of summertime which causes our kids to reach new heights as well, whether it is emerging taller by August’s end and/or experiencing great pain, great joy, great feats of daring.

Savor the summer and the transformations which are likely to occur. The lazy, hazy days are always full of cool discoveries.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Jonesing for Jonas

If you have a daughter above the age of five, who watches the Disney channel, then you most likely have heard of the teen singing sensation, the Jonas Brothers. And, if by some rare chance you have not, pay attention. They are a female addiction just waiting to happen.

From the playgrounds of the elementary schools, to the halls at New Canaan High – and Lord knows everywhere else in the country – girls are going gaga for New Jersey-raised brothers Nick, Joe and Kevin. I think the Jonas Brothers are to our daughters what the Beatles once were to those of us of a certain age (and for those younger mommies, think David Cassidy?). They are swoon-worthy, they are energetic, and they are sweet-sounding young musicians. And I know New Canaan has been bitten by the Jonas bug.

I spied quite a number of you at their recent concert up at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport. And don’t deny it – even you were held in the brothers’ thrall. They are quite the act on stage: PG, with just a hint of PG-13. It was difficult to actually hear their vocals at times during the concert, what with all the insanely high-decibel screaming going on all around, but judging from the CD which plays non-stop in our car, the boys have decent pipes.

My daughter became a fanatic a year ago, and as the Jonas Brothers have grown into more and more of a phenomenon (singing the national anthem at the White House this Easter, performing in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, on “Dancing with the Stars” and “Jimmy Kimmel, Live” to name just a few appearances), her fandamonium has grown exponentially. It’s a little scary to observe sometimes, but it’s fascinating all the same. They bring such a strong smile of joy and rapture to her face that it’s hard to deny her. And so I have become an enabler and a fan all at once! (Perhaps that fact is scarier than the depth of her passion!)

In just three month’s time, I have taken her to see them four – count ‘em – four times. My husband has seen the Allman Brothers, Radiohead, and Los Lobos during this time span; me – three moppy haired Jersey boys. Last week I literally injured my forearm sprinting down our stairs to get to the computer in order to purchase tickets for their upcoming summer concert tour. I missed some of my beloved “American Idol” to catch them singing on “Dancing with the Stars.” And I awoke at 4:00 a.m. this past Good Friday to drive her and her equally-addicted friend, Madison, to catch a 5:00 a.m. train into the city so that they could attempt to see the boys perform on CBS’ “The Early Show.” (That mission was not accomplished, unless one counts seeing their tour bus parked outside of the Hard Rock Café in Times Square; trust me – they counted it!)

It seems these lads have staying power and a brother for every age: Nick is 15, Joe, 18 and Kevin is 20. There is even a “Bonus Jonas,” seven-year-old brother, Frankie, although he doesn’t perform with his older siblings. And there could be worse things for our daughters to be obsessed with or addicted to, right? These guys are safe without being saccharine, tame without being lame, and “that’s just the way they roll.”

Janet has to get her fix everyday. I’d rather it be Joe Jonas than a joint; Nick over nicotine and Kevin rather than kegs. Long live the Jon-i!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Teenager on Board

My nest is now three-quarters empty.

Last weekend we drove our daughter, my third child Janet, up to a boarding school in Massachusetts to begin the second semester of her freshman year in high school. A new chapter begins for both her and the rest of the family, at least the three of us left at home: me, her dad and younger brother Jack.

My husband attended boarding school during his high school years, but I was a public high school kid. Where Janet was concerned, we had batted the idea of a boarding school back and forth over the past year, with Jon being more pro and me more-or-less on the fence. I knew it would probably be best for her academically. But I kind of enjoyed the public high school social experience and for better or worse also liked having her around. I also found pleasure in seeing her buddies both here at our house as well as in the halls of New Canaan High and on Elm Street. I miss them already.

The decision to withdraw her from the high school and enroll in boarding school happened quickly. She asked if she could go, our batting around ceased, and the search for the right school increased. And within two weeks it was done. Boom! Instant teen on board.

It’s a big decision this one of sending your child off to a private, residential secondary school. All sorts of factors – financial, academic, emotional, and social – must be considered. Often the decision isn’t so monumental. Many families come from a long line of boarding school graduates, from great grandparents down to the current generation, so the conclusion of where to spend the high school years is foregone. Jon’s family has that kind of history. Mine is mixed – mom attended Miss McGhee’s in New Orleans and my dad graduated from Mendota (Illinois) High; my brother had a boarding education as a middle-schooler. And as I said, I am a happy grad of Weston High.

Often a student needs a smaller, more concentrated classroom environment in order to succeed and private or residential schools can accomplish this more readily than a public school. A stricter dress code and/or discipline expectations may also be easier to enforce in a private school setting than at home or in the local middle or high school. Oftentimes boarding school traditions are embraced by the parent who has been down that road and they would like those customs visited on their children.

We have friends in town – in fact the mom is a former classmate of Jon’s from The Kent School – who have sent both of their children to their mother’s alma mater. Although they miss the kids, the concept of them going away to school was hardly foreign. Dad got teary initially, but I think now he’s adjusted. I may need some advice from him on how to do just that.

Our second oldest son also went away during his junior year, only to return to and graduate from New Canaan High, so this is not my maiden voyage with the whole kid-away-at-boarding-school. But it feels different. And raw.

While there are certain things I will not miss - among them being the arguments over computer curfew time, or appropriate school attire, and being tense every morning wondering whether or not she would make the school bus (If she missed it – which she was wont to do at least twice a week – I would be deprived of some extra sleep and wound up driving bleary eyed to school bed-headed and be-jammied. Won’t miss that. Not for a nano-second) - I will miss her, the Janet-ness of her on a daily basis. The unexpected hugs and giggles for me only; the sharing of friend “drama;” the scoop on the Jonas Brothers; the hormones that coincide with my own; the fact that my eye-liner or favorite pair of Uggs or body scrub will not be disappearing.

As we said goodbye to her last Sunday in front of her dorm, I was paradoxically both of full heart and heart-broken. I hugged her maybe a second longer than I think she was comfortable with and as I pulled away tears immediately filled my eyes. Janet winced.

“It’s okay, mom,” she said, turning a little pink nonetheless. I thought of the lyrics to a Billy Ray Cyrus/Miley Cyrus song (“Ready, Set, Don’t Go”) she enjoys:

(MILEY:) Lemme go now. (BILLY RAY:) Don’t go! (MILEY:) I’ll be alright, I’ll be ok. Know that I’ll be thinkin’ of you each and every day. (BILLY RAY:) She’s gotta do what she’s gotta do… (MILEY:) This is where you don't say what you want so bad to say (BILLY RAY:) This is where I want to but I won’t get in the way. Of her and her dream. And spreadin’ her wings…

(MILEY:) I'm ready to fly!

I will learn to get more on board with the child away at school. Change is good. And if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Does it get any Easier?!

I don’t think it matters whether you have one child or a dozen, at some point – or at many points – you are going to wonder aloud, “How old does the kid have to be before raising them gets any easier?”

I don’t have an answer and I have four of the suckers, ages 11 to 24. So one would think I might have some sage advice. And yet I don’t. Certain ages seem easier to negotiate than others, but crucial mitigating factors sneak in there, and one mother’s easy is another mother’s walking, talking nightmare. Not comforting, I know.

I was recently moaning over the telephone to my sister-in-law out in Wyoming about some teenage trial or other. She said to me, “Well, Julie, it’s not your first time at the rodeo.” One doesn’t have to be from a western mountain state to fully appreciate that statement. And it’s a pretty great one, isn’t it? “Not your first time at the rodeo” is now taped to my computer. Perhaps it will become a new mantra. And when I say it I picture myself as either the rodeo clown – dodging and weaving and being laughed at – or as one of those fairly confident looking, really cool, fringy and fuzzy chaps- wearing cowboys sitting high and solid aboard a bucking bronc. I’m twirling my hat around my head, yee-hawing, just before I am catapulted off and up and head-first into manure.

I would have to say that the teen years are the hardest, the most challenging, but that statement seems a no-brainer. With hormones and identity-searching raging, being a teenager and RAISING a teenager is fraught with conflict and confusion. Yet as stated earlier, mitigating factors can make the teen years either a piece of cake or a piece of scat. It’s in the “lap of the gods,” as my late, great mom used to say.

Blake wasn’t an altogether awful teenager. He was and is a man of few words, friends, wants and needs. Any “age-appropriate” faux paus’ were few and far between. His younger by two years brother, Kenny however, was the opposite – more words, more social commitments and needs and wants that seemed bottomless. Where Blake erred on the side of caution, Kenny decided early into his teens that “caution” was a concept for and of which he would not have any part. My teen daughter, Janet, is not unlike her brother Kenny – right down to the same birth date – yet the factor that makes her experiences different is that she is female. That’s something we have not experienced in terms of the teenaged years, so things are at times really foreign. Are girls easier than boys, or the other way around? If I comment on the truth here either Janet or Kenny will likely poison my morning Diet Coke, so perhaps I’ll go with “it’s a toss up.”

The middle school years aren’t a walk in the park either, and my fourth and final child is right smack in the, well, middle of them. Even though it’s a been-there-done-that thing I can nonetheless occasionally be discovered curled up in the fetal position wailing, “Does it get any easier?” By now one would think I’d know the answer. I do, I do know the answer, and it is “Not yet.” Although, to be fair, Jack is hands-down the easiest child I have had to raise, but at only 11, there’s still plenty of time to terrorize. I need to be cautious not to become too complacent… he can execute a sneak attack at any moment.

“I couldn’t hit a wall with a six gun, but I can twirl one. It looks good.” ~ John Wayne

While raising children doesn’t truly get any easier, I can at least try and look as if I’m doing it in a fairly effortless manner. You know, “act as if…” Act as if I know exactly what to do when a tantrum presents itself, or a kid forgets to phone on mother’s day, or a son doesn’t feel like working full-time, a daughter doesn’t realize the meaning or purpose of a clothes hanger, or a sixth grader insists that his bedtime can be just as late as a ninth grader’s. Act as if I don’t long to escape to my own private island, sans everybody and anything but some sunscreen.

I suppose easy isn’t interesting. Which makes my life quite the rodeo indeed.

The Passion of the Child

Hell hath no fury like a child scorned.

It is Major League Baseball playoff time, a time of great joy and/or sorrow, peppered with shouts of obscenities or triumph, at least in our house. Both my husband and son, Jack, are rabid Yankee fans, although I question Jack’s loyalty when the Yanks are behind; he becomes something altogether different than an adoring admirer when the chips are seemingly down for the Bronx Bombers.

When he was younger, the screams and cries – although explosive in nature – were more along the lines of: “Stupid Yankees! What the heck?!” And, now, the 11-year-old younger brother of two older male siblings with questionable vocabularies, substitutes the words “stupid” and “heck” with more colorful terms. This only results in more exasperation when he is properly parentally scolded, while I silently curse both the Yankees and my son for losing control of the game.

Jack’s buddy, Drew, is a Red Sox enthusiast, and his mom Robin reports that their house is just as tense during games. Once this past summer, Jack went over to Drew’s to watch a Yankees-Red Sox game, and Robin and I both braced for a young boy massacre of epic proportions. It never materialized.

When a person, especially a person on the left side of puberty, has a passion for some person, place or thing, it can be fabulously fierce.

Last week in Food Emporium I witnessed the meltdown of a tiny, blonde female toddler when she was not allowed to have a Scooby-Doo Pez dispenser, which hung directly at her eye level at the check-out counter. She was fondling it with longing as she simultaneously tugged on her daddy’s shorts.

“Pez, pweeze! Pez pweeze!” she implored, saucer eyes gazing pleadingly upward.

“No, honey. Not today,” answered her father, prying the Pez from her now vise-like grasp.

The accompanying scream was startling and anguished. As her red-faced dad pulled her away by the waist, her small arms outstretched achingly in Pez Scooby’s direction, as she cried “Nooooooooooo!,” sounding like a lover wailing at her paramour’s departure for war.

I recall the histrionics of my high school girlfriends and me when boyfriend disintegration would occur, as of course teenage relationships are wont to do. The physical and psychological pain seems unbearable and near-animalisitc sounding sobbing feels like the only solution to rid the body of the toxins of rejection. As heartbreaking as it is for a 14-year-old girl, it feels nearly as powerful for the powerless mother; the passion of the parent to protect is instinctive.

Often the attempt to protect a child from disappointment is futile. Losing and disenchantment and frustration are simply part and parcel of life. Without those three, joy would not seem as precious, success not nearly as sweet.

Those pithy clichés – “soldier on,” “this too shall pass,” “it could be worse,” “maybe next time” - and my husband’s favorite – “I want gets nothing,”do little to rectify a passion purged at first blush. Yet I think the child will retain these time-worn and time-honored “slogans” each time they feel thwarted in the future. I want to believe that in their heart-of-hearts that know that they will live to see another day, that the odds of a team winning again will come to fruitition that a Pez Scooby-Doo will some day make it onto the check-put conveyer belt.

The Yanks have made it to and won the World Series 20-something times before and the whole deal is a dream to be dreamed every year. I need to convince Jack to put a little more faith in the pinstriped boys of October.

Either that or move out until the playoffs are over. The latter sounds preferable.